Quebec's Alex Harvey has long been an up-and-comer in the sport of cross-country, but with a world championship gold medal to his credit (in a team event with Devon Kershaw) and a strong start to the 2011-2012 season, it might be time to think of Harvey as already at the top.
On Saturday, Harvey battled his way to the front of the opening men's 15-kilometre freestyle individual start race at Sjusjoen, Norway, finishing fifth overall with a time of 33:21.5 while averaging close to 27km/h.
"I'm super happy with today and even a little surprised," said the 23-year-old Harvey, the son of Canadian cross-country legend Pierre Harvey.
"A 15-kilometre individual start is a black horse for me. I really had a goal of getting into the top 10 today, but my skis were awesome so I'm very happy."
Harvey said the team focused on building strength and preparing for long distance events, something that he said helped with his top five result.
"Normally in a long skate my legs get cramping at about 10km," he said. "We worked very hard in our camps in Maui and Park City doing lots of climbing because these races are very important - especially the final race on the Tour de Ski. Today shows me that hard work is paying off."
Sweden's Johan Olsson, arguably the strongest all-around skier on the circuit, took the win in 32:40.9, followed by Norway's Petter Northug in 33:12.1. Italy's Roland Clara was third in 33:12.3, while Calle Halfvarsson of Sweden placed fourth in 33.19.5, just a few strides ahead of Harvey.
None of the other Canadian skiers would crack the top 30, with Devon Kershaw in 32nd, Ivan Babikov in 42nd, Lenny Valjas in 64th and Graham Nishikawa in 71st.
No Canadians entered the 10-kilometre women's freestyle race, with Marit Bjoergen of Norway taking first, Charlotte Kalla of Sweden in second and Vibeke Skofterud of Norway in third.
Norwegian skiers claimed seven of the top 10 positions, including two of the medals. Kikkan Randall of the U.S. was the top North American in eighth overall.
Next up for the team is the World Cup at Kuusamo, Finland this weekend, a race that already figures in the national team's strategy for the season.
"One of the first goals of the season was to podium at the mini tour there (in Kuusamo), and I believe I can do that," said Harvey.